Monday, December 15, 2008

Baking and preparing your wedding cakes for decorating


Being prepared and organized is essential when creating a tier cake. Imagine having baked and decorated all the cakes for your design only to discover at the reception hall that the tiers and plates don't fit on the stand! Because a tier cake design can be adjusted to serve as few as 20 and as many as 400 people, you'll want to be sure your cake set-up will work without a hitch. This means doing a dry run of your cake construction.

To do your dry run, get all your construction pieces together-pans, plates, pillars, stand, even the fountain and stairs if your design calls for them. Now assemble the parts as they will appear on the finished cake. This way you can be sure you have the correct size plates and boards for your cakes and that your stairs or flower holder rings will fit properly in the set-up. This is especially helpful if you have to cut your cake boards for specialty shapes like petals or ovals. You can be certain that you've cut to the right size for the cake.


Concentrate on three factors when baking and preparing your cakes for decorating:
• Perfect light golden brown color
• Precisely level top and bottom
• Smooth, crumb-free surface.

1. Prepare the pans. Thoroughly grease pans using Wilton Cake Release, applied with a pastry brush. Cake Release eliminates the need to grease and flour pans and releases cakes perfectly, without crumbs. You may also grease pans using solid vegetable shortening; sprinkle inside the pan with about 2 Tablespoons flour and shake so that flour covers all greased surfaces. Turn pan upside down to remove excess flour.

2. Fill the pans. Any cake mix or recipe will work, but for fondant-covered cakes you may want to use a firmer cake, such as pound cake. When baking in Wilton pans, use these recommended batter amounts. It helps to clip Wilton Bake-Even Strips on the outside of pan before baking to keep cakes level and reduce cracking or crowning. Pour in the batter, filling pan about 1/2 to 2/3 full. Tap filled pans lightly on a countertop to reduce air bubbles in the batter.

3. Bake cakes on middle rack of a preheated oven for time specified in recipe. To test whether a cake is done, insert a toothpick or cake tester near center and remove. If tip is clean, cake is done. Set cakes in pans on wire racks to cool for 10 minutes. To unmold cake, place a cooling rack against the cake and turn both rack and pan over. Flip back to place on cake board. Lift pan off carefully; let cool at least one hour. Brush off any loose crumbs before icing.

Selecting Your Wedding Cake

Everyone looks forward to the moment when the bride and groom take center stage to cut the cake. The band strikes that familiar refrain, conversations come to a halt, and the room stills to witness a ritual that in itself has produced many a tradition and superstition.

Wedding cakes have become as varied as the ceremonies. No longer restricted to white vanilla cake with a plastic bride and groom smiling from the top tier, today's confections run the gamut of flavor and decoration. From chocolate and spice to Swarovski's crystal swans cake topper, there is something to suit every palate, and ever style.

The most important consideration to make when selecting your cake is personality -- this cake symbolizes you and your fiance's union, and should be a "marriage" of your favorite tastes and decorations.

Cake flavors that are gaining popularity include chocolate, spice, poppy seed, carrot, Grand Marnier, and even cheesecake. Still, the wonderful thing about wedding cakes in the 1990's is that any flavor is possible, as well as acceptable.

Frosting and filling flavors are also straying from the traditional. Fillings provide the most variety, since they can include the more ordinary chocolate fudge or lemon mousse, but also extend through the range of fruit flavors possible in various gelees and preserves. If you can't decide on one filling flavor, choose one for each layer!

Possibilities are widening in the shapes of wedding cakes, also. While tiers are still popular, many couples find the plastic pillars that separate them tacky. Many bakers will work with your florist to decorate the cake, and together they can devise some cascading fresh flower decorations that wind around the pillars and look very elegant.

Stacked cakes are gaining momentum because of the myriad of shapes they come in. Hearts, squares, and hexagons are prevalent, as well as the more traditional circles. Can't decide on one shape for your stacked cake? Combine various geometric shapes for an interesting solution!

Cake decorations are becoming more unique and individual as couples are taking more interest in designing the perfect cake. Details such as ribbons, lace, charms, beads, tulle, bows, and streamers add a festive touch. Many brides choose to decorate the cake in details of their own gown, complete with a mini-bouquet as a cake topper.

Other unique cake toppers include a commissioned sculpture of the newlyweds on skis, replicas of Mickey and Minnie, and statuettes of beloved pets. Keepsakes are replacing their cheap plastic counterparts, and some couples are even incorporating cake toppers used at their parents' or grandparents' weddings!

With all of these wonderful ideas, you probably aren't even sure where to start. The first step is to choose a baker, and although this seems to be a daunting task, finding the right baker can mean everything to creating that perfect cake.

Ask around to find friends who can recommend good bakeries. Shop around, and be sure that you choose a reputable shop. Be sure to ask plenty of questions. Will there be extra charges for fillings, delivery, or elaborate decorations? Since many bakers charge by the slice, instead of the decorations, find out how big they consider a "slice" to be. Many bakeries have different definitions of a slice, and this can be reflected in their "per-slice" charge.

Look through their album of cakes to see what styles are available. If you can't find one you like in the album, go through cake decoration books and magazines for ideas. A good bakery should be willing and able to copy a picture of a cake with a minimum amount of change from the original.

Once you decide on a bakery, reserve your date. You need not place your order just yet, but it is important to make reservations since some area cake bakeries are booked up to two years in advance.

Ordering the right size cake is another very important consideration. The cake should be large enough to serve every guest at your reception, and you may want to allow for extra so that you can keep the top layer for your first anniversary celebration, a popular tradition.

Candies and cookies frequently accompany the cake in wedding receptions. How you display the confections will dictate how many you should order. If you place them in a basket or on a tray next to the cake, you will need to order more than you would if you put a couple at each place setting.

As with all other wedding plans, the choice is up to you, and your choices are forever expanding with new cake flavors, frostings, fillings, decorations. Make your cake a memorable treat long after the wedding by bringing your personality to its design!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Choosing a Wedding Cake: Flavor, Icing & Decoration, Shape


Traditionally, wedding cakes came in two basic flavors: white and yellow. Occasionally, the adventuresome bride would go wild and ask for a chocolate cake.

Those days are long gone. Today, most bakeries offer a wide variety of delectable flavors. And brides are taking advantage of those choices, often requesting more than one flavor within their wedding cake.

"They're interested in letting their guests have a choice," explains one area baker that specializes in wedding cakes.

She explains that her customers want sophisticated flavors for their cakes. Liqueur-based cakes have been extremely popular, as have other very adult flavors such as cappuccino. A variety of citrus flavors, particularly orange, lemon and lime, are also in demand. A wonderful curd filling between layers often enhances these flavors.

In the past, adventurous flavors may have raised an eyebrow or two, but today's bride shouldn't worry too much, especially if she opts for several different flavors. More "usual" flavors-such as chocolate, spice or carrot-can be very welcome alongside trendier cakes. Some brides even choose cheesecake as part of the wedding supper dessert offering. Of course, if she prefers to play it safe, traditional white or yellow cakes are still delicious.

Icing & Decoration

Perhaps the biggest change in wedding cakes appears in their decorations and icings. "There's a lot of non-traditional wedding cake decoration," the baker reveals.

In this area, a fondant-style icing is very popular. Its smooth, unmarred surface makes a perfect base for beautiful, creative decorations. Fondant is like a "sugar dough" and allows the baker to create three-dimensional decorations similar to marzipan. A thin layer of butter cream icing below the fondant helps it stick to the cake. A word of warning that fondants can be hard and chewy if not done correctly, so it's vital to choose a baker familiar with fondant so the icing will taste moist and soft. Be sure to have a sample taste to be sure you like what you will be getting.

Although many brides still want traditional white cakes, color is an important part of cake decoration these days. Tinted icing in pastel shades makes for lovely, delicate-looking cakes. But pastels aren't the only colors to make the cut. Just one bright color, such as coral, on a cake makes a beautiful statement and allows the bride to incorporate her wedding's color theme throughout the event.

Brides still love cakes decorated with fresh or frosting flowers. But less traditional decorations bring a new creativity to wedding cakes. Icing bows and ribbons make fanciful decorations. Another creative touch sure to garner "oohs" and "ahs" are blown sugar bubbles or fondant bubbles tinted to look just like the real thing, iridescence and all. Other fresh looks include basket weave icing, fondant fruits and a lovely faux-brocade decoration.


Of course, such innovative decoration calls for equally innovative cake construction. The traditional stacked cake still maintains a prominent place in the wedding cake line-up. Today it has three to five layers and most often appears without columns supporting the individual layers. Present options include a series of fanciful constructions which would delight any bride.

"Brides are paying more attention to the overall construction," a local baker says, noting that today's wedding cakes can assume shapes from an ornate hat to a stack of gifts. Brides who opt for these shapes want something very personal and unusual to grace their reception. A combination of shapes, such as a square tier combined with several round ones, also give wedding cakes a unique presence. Some brides even opt for very tiny miniature wedding cakes, one for each guest. These diminutive cakes can assume any shape, and might even be topped with a second tier.

Size & Cost

How much cake to order can be a confusing gamble. Brides should consider several factors when consulting with their baker before coming to a final decision:

How many guests will attend? How large will each serving be? Is leftover cake desired, and if so, how much? Will the bride and groom retain a small tier or portion of the cake to freeze until their first anniversary?

The number of servings it yields determines the price of a wedding cake. Brides should be aware that serving sizes differ widely from bakery to bakery. They must make sure they understand just how big a serving size is and communicate that to whoever cuts the cake at the reception.

Cakes can cost anywhere from a low $1.50 per serving to upwards of $3.00 per serving. In general, the more avant-garde and specialized the cake, the more expensive it will be. If cost is a major consideration, a traditional tiered or simple rectangular white or yellow cake will probably be the least expensive.


Wedding cakes are complex, delicate constructions, ones that definitely require professional handling. Most bakers include the cost of delivery and set-up in the price of the cake. If a particular baker does not, it is definitely worth the extra charge to relieve the bride of the stress and headache of coordinating this herself. It is a small price to pay for peace of mind and a flawless cake.

Bakeries have the correct vehicle in which to transport a wedding cake and bakers know how to assemble one on site. Bakers who deliver also bring along equipment to repair any minor dings a cake might acquire along the way. Many supply decorative cake knives, but some do not. In that case, the bride will have to supply her own. If the bride has chosen a tiered cake, she may be responsible for returning columns and other items to the baker after the wedding.

Choosing a Bakery

Finding a baker to fit your needs will take a little research and leg work, but it's definitely worth the time. Check ads, ask friends and family for referrals to good bakeries, and visit the WEDDING PLANNER & GUIDE Bridal Show to see a wide variety of bakers. Most have cakes on display, and even samples to taste. Set up appointments with several different bakers and then go in and view photos of other cakes they've created. Consider asking for references. Sample the wares. And above all, enjoy the process! After all, it's your wedding cake-and what could be sweeter than that?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wedding Photography Checklist

The bride and groom must go to this meeting ready to ask important questions they've prepared ahead of time. Consider asking the photographer about these points:

Cost - Does the photographer have package prices? What does each package include (size and number of prints)? Can services be ordered a la carte? Is the album extra? Can the couple choose from a selection of albums? How much do duplicate prints cost (for relatives and attendants)? How can out-of-town folks order and pay for photos? How will their photos be delivered? Will there be meal or transportation expenses?

Contract - Once all the details have been decided on, will the services and prices be confirmed in a contract, and with whom will the couple be dealing? Or, will final price be decided after viewing and deciding on the proofs? Will the contract specify delivery times of proofs and final copies? Who will own the negatives? What is the payment schedule? Who is responsible for lost proofs? Is the photographer's attendance guaranteed? What if he doesn't make it? What happens if the date of the wedding changes or some other circumstance intervenes?

"Must" Photos - Will all desired formal and candid shots of the wedding and reception be taken? Are they guaranteed? What type of format will be used and why? Will there be any special effect shots (double exposure, special filters, fadeouts, etc.)? Will the photographer use a list of wanted photos provided by the bride and groom? (A helpful photography checklist can be found in the "Worksheet Section" of this publication.)

Bridal Portrait - Is the bridal portrait included in the package price? Will it be taken the day of the ceremony, the day of the final fitting or at a less hectic time, like a month before the wedding? Where will it be taken -- at the bridal shop, the photographer's studio, the bride's home, the bride's mother's home, a special site or the church? Will full-length and head-and-shoulder shots be taken? Can a black-and-white shot be taken for newspaper announcements?

Scheduling - Will the formal wedding party shots be taken before or after the wedding? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each time? When will the photographer arrive? How long will he or she stay at the reception?

Wedding Site - Is the photographer familiar with the site and its policies? Is it necessary to supply the photographer with a copy of site policies and rules? Should the bride and groom arrange a pre-wedding visit to check lighting, filter and positioning requirements?

With so many questions to consider, the need for a professional, experienced photographer becomes clear. The ability to take good photos is certainly not the only point of consideration. The photographer must also be a good communicator, willing to listen to the couple's wishes and able to successfully explain his artistic style, assuring the couple that they will get what they want. And what they want, of course, are photographs to last a lifetime.

Choosing a Caterer

1. Will you (the catering representative) be there the night of the wedding?

2. Can we see photographs of your previous work?

3. Can we visit one of your weddings during set-up?

4. Can we have a taste test of the foods on our menu?

5. Are you licensed?

6. Do you have a liquor license? If not, do you provide bar set-up and bartenders?

7. Are you familiar with our reception site?

8. Have you ever catered a wedding of this size (if your wedding is very large)?

9. Do you specialize in any particular type of cuisine or menu?

10. Where will you prepare the food?

11. How will your service personnel be dressed?

12. How often will the food be replenished?

13. How do you figure the charge for the labor?

14. How many servers will you need for my wedding?

15. How much do you charge for a cake table?

16. Do you have any minimum requirements?

17. Do you provide a written estimate and contract?

18. How much of a deposit do you require?

19. What is your cancellation policy?

20. What is your postponement policy?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How to get the sweet confection of your dreams

Variety is not just the spice but the sweetness in life, according to master chefs across the country, who maintain that though the traditional all-white wedding cake is making a big comeback, today's choices run from contemporary cube to Edwardian extravaganzas, and what you finally pick is largely a matter of taste.

Infinite possibilities
You can have your choice of just about any shape-round, square, diamond, heart-shaped, etc.-some 15 basic cake flavors-white, yellow, carrot, hazelnut, orange, mocha, chocolate, among others-and 30 fillings-raspberry, orange Grand Marnier, lemon, chocolate mousse, you name it-or better yet, for those who like to mix and match, says Mike McCarey, of John & Mike's Amazing Cakes in Redmond, WA, any combination of the above: "It's hard to please 200 people with just one flavor."

Low wire act
Ideally, the cake should reflect the personal tastes and interests of both you and your fiancé. But if you can't seem to come to some sort of compromise, you could take another approach and order his 'n hers bride's and groom's cakes. Gail Watson, of Gail Watson Custom Cakes in New York City, says one of her most memorable weddings was between a gymnast and a ballet dancer. The bride had a cake that looked like a dancer's tutu, while the groom's cake had a circussy theme, and stretched between the two was a...tightrope wire!

Top billing
Wedding cakes are traditionally crowned with a special cake top. This can be the customary figure of a bride or groom, says master cake designer Ron Ben-Israel of New York City, or something rife with symbolism, such as swans for never-ending love, marzipan for a fruitful life, and gold for abundance.

Taking the cake
When should you order the wedding cake? At least six to eight weeks in advance, if you want to make sure you get exactly what you want, and, says McCarey, during popular seasons you should perhaps put down a deposit even earlier.

Costs range from $1 to $10 or more per slice in a large metropolitan area like New York City, says Watson, depending on exotic ingredients or detail. Some of the fancier cakes, however, come at a flat rate, with averages of $1,500 to $4,000 and up.

Slicing the price
How to narrow down the field when your eyes may be much bigger not only than your stomach-but than your budget? By having a smaller display cake and serving a sliced sheet cake, or what McCarey calls "side cake."
When you're shopping for your delectable confection, keep the following pointers in mind:

  • Comparison shop. You should meet with at least three bakers to get an idea of different styles and prices before making up your mind.
  • Ask to see photos of their cakes. Make sure pictures represent the work of their current decorators, not past staff. Insist on a tasting. Of course, you want your cake to be a dazzling showcase, but it should also be as pleasing to the palate as it is to the eye.
  • Discuss the size, site and season of your wedding. If you're having an outdoor wedding in June, for instance, you want to be sure the buttercream will hold up in the summer heat.
  • Be open to new ideas. You probably think you know exactly what you want, but the baker may have suggestions for combinations-and creations- you never dreamed possible.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Keeping the price of your food and drinks reasonable

The mere thought of feeding a hundred guests makes some brides feel faint. Not only are there a multitude of decisions to be made, but also pennies to be spent. The truth is a few wise decisions can really cut the cost of your reception food and drinks without sacrificing the taste. Here's a list of tips to help make your reception affordable.

Serve simple foods
Beef and seafood entrees are usually the most expensive, so try chicken or pasta dishes. Watch the ingredient list as well. If you ask for dishes that require expensive or out-of-season ingredients (like asparagus during the fall), you'll jack up your bottom line.

Cut back on options
Choose one popular entree instead of two. This narrows your guests' options, but it is certainly less costly.

Scrap your dinner plans
A brunch or lunch reception can be just as festive at a fraction of the price. And people usually drink less at a morning or afternoon affair, so your bar tab will be significantly smaller.

Request a kid's menu
If you're inviting children to your reception, ask for smaller portions or more kid-friendly (and often less expensive) food. As your underage guests won't be toasting with champagne or downing a scotch on the rocks, ask that your bar bill reflect that as well.

Liquidate your assets
Put your cash into a tea or cocktail reception, elegant late afternoon or evening affairs without the hefty meal. For a tea reception, serve your guests tiny sandwiches, fruit and cheese, assorted desserts, a champagne punch and a variety of teas and coffees. At a cocktail reception, offer an assortment of hearty hors d'oeuvres, cake and fancy drinks.

Choose the right bar
If you're inviting a crowd of light drinkers, a consumption bar will save you money over an open bar (never, ever opt for a cash bar). If you're choosing a consumption bar, ask the waiters not to bus half-full glasses. Your guests won't have to keep going back up for fresh ones every time they rest their glass on a table, and you'll reap the windfall.

Just say no to champagne toasting
Don't serve champagne to everyone at toasting time. A lot of people don't like champagne and will be happy to toast with whatever is in their hand.

Lose the liquor
Cut back on alcohol costs by serving a delicious champagne punch or offering your guests a bar stocked with different types of wine and beer.

Try the short cake
Have your baker create a few simple tiers for the cake cutting, then stock the kitchen with additional sheet cakes.

Lose the sweet tooth
Eliminate the elaborate sweets table. Instead, choose a different flavor for each layer of cake. You can create a great selection of tortes, which you can complement with truffles, chocolate-dipped strawberries and a nice fruit display.